Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Clearing the Backlog for the New Year

As alluded to in my post yesterday, I have a long list of books I read last year but never got round to reviewing.  There are about fifteen or so that I feel I actually do want to post about in due course but there are a number where I could write something but have no great desire to do so and, therefore, in the spirit of starting the year with a fairly clear review slate, here they are:

2,521: Origins of World War II by A.J.P. Taylor.  Fascinating and beautifully written account of the run-up to the outbreak of war in September 1939. This is one of the classic accounts and is a “must read” for anyone interested in the period.

2,520: Vendetta by Michael Dibdin.  Second in the Aurelio Zen detective series, this instalment sees Zen sent to Sardinia to investigate the murder of a politically connected businessman.  High quality detective fiction, majoring on the deceit and corrupt nature of Italian politics.

2,519:  Cabal by Michael Dibdin.  In this Zen novel, Aurelio has to get to grips with the intrigues and conspiracies of the Vatican.  Another top class outing for one of my favourite fictional detectives.

2,518:  Moral Combat by Michael Burleigh.  Highly readable and authoritative history of the Second World War from a moral standpoint.  The book does, therefore, present a different narrative arc than most general histories of the war with some major events dealt with briefly and more attention given to other aspects of the war with more moral complexity or ambiguity.  Burleigh is particularly good in his refutation of moral equivalency arguments.

2,517:  Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger.  Through the prism of a single three day mid-season series between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals, Bissinger analyses the mind of manager Tony La Russa and baseball in general.  Not as good as Bissinger’s classic Friday Night Lights but well worth a read for any baseball fan.

2,516:  Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin.  In Zen’s fourth outing, he goes home to Venice, ostensibly to investigate the disappearance of an American resident of the city, but, in reality, to get away from issues in his personal life in Rome.  He ends up having to deal with his past in a book that marks a shift in Dibdin’s coverage of deceit and hypocrisy in Italian life from the institutional to the personal.

2,515: Zoo Station by David Downing.   Above-average spy novel set in 1939 Germany and featuring an English journalist resident in Berlin who is forced to become a spy both for the Soviet Union and for Britain.  Not as good as either Philip Kerr or Alan Furst, it is OK but the loose ends were tied up a little too easily and there was not as much tension as I would have liked.

2,514:  The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 by Antonia Fraser. This narrative history of the events leading up to the Plot and the aftermath was informative and readable. Fraser examines the extent to which Robert Cecil, King James’s First Minister, knew of the Plot beforehand and the roles played by the individual conspirators and their families.  I hadn’t realised how minor a figure Guy Fawkes really was, compared to Catesby.  Fraser is also very interesting on the role of women in Anglo-Catholic families of the time.

2,513:  First Into Action by Duncan Falconer.  Colourful account of one man’s life as a trooper in the SBS.  Interesting if you are into military stuff, otherwise not worth the time.

2,512:  Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky.  The first in her detective series featuring wise-cracking, feisty PI Victoria “VI” Warshawski, this one sees VI investigating the murder of the son of a prominent Chicago banker and the disappearance of the daughter of a union leader.  Warshawski is one of the fictional feminist detectives of the 1980s and Paretsky is sometimes a little heavy-handed about discussing feminist issues through the storyline but it’s good stuff anyway.

2,511:  Deadlock by Sara Paretsky.  In this instalment, VI investigates the death of her cousin, former ice hockey star, “Boom Boom” Warshawski, who had been working in the grain shipping industry on the Great Lakes.  Good stuff.

2,510:  Killing Orders by Sara Paretsky.  For good or ill, the Catholic Church is always a good setting for a thriller or detective story and Paretsky makes good use of it by linking theft and forgery in a Chicago priory to a local gang boss.

2,509: Bitter Medicine by Sara Paretsky.  In this episode in the Warshawski series, Paretsky uses her detective to discuss the politics of abortion in 1980s America and the consequences of a private healthcare system.  Fortunately, Paretsky is skilled enough to let the story take precedence over the politics and social commentary.

2,508:  Decline and Fall by Chris Mullin.  The second of three volumes of diaries by former Sunderland MP, Chris Mullin, this instalment deals with the end times of the Blair-Brown governments.  As with his previous volume, this is full of sharp character sketches, witty commentary, warmth and generosity of spirit and should be read by anyone with an interest in British politics even if you don’t agree with all his views.  Highly enjoyable.


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